How Should We Interpret Jewish Troubles Today?
“Topics you always wanted a sermon on” series
Deuteronomy 28, Isaiah 43
This is our final question this year in our series: topics you always wanted a sermon on. Time sure does fly fast but don’t worry because, Lord willing, next November & December I will again ask you for some more topics to delve into during March & April. I do hope to squeeze in the fall that one sermon that got canceled because of my Dad’s sudden death. You would think after preaching 45 sermons a year for the past 30 years that I would have run out of topics, but the truth is I never have enough slots. The Word of God is so exciting and the truths in the Bible are so transforming that I am regularly frustrated there aren’t more Sundays in a week. (God has been gracious to all of you in limiting me to only one sermon a week).
This week’s topic is a fascinating one – it is a question that can arise in our minds when we are reading though the Old Testament, especially for the first time.
Question: How should we interpret things like the Nazi holocaust and persecution of the Jews? In the Old Testament whenever the Jews were persecuted it was usually God’s punishment for their disobedience. After Jesus came should we interpret persecution of the Jews differently?
Since you probably didn’t wake up today with this question on your mind, let’s first see how it can naturally arise in our minds? Then we’ll see several different parts of the answer which all point to God’s greatness. Finally we will see how our answer helps us understand God’s grace in our own lives better.
PROPOSITION: The troubles the Jewish people face today should drive us to self-examination of our own sin and a profound sense of the greatness of God because the Jewish people continue to exist as a people in spite of a multitude of destroyers.
I. God does punish the disobedience of His people
A. Deuteronomy 28
Deuteronomy 28 is one of those typical Old Testament passages which show God’s character of love AND holiness. READ v 1-7. This is how we want life to go. We are successful in our homes, work and community because the blessing of God is with us. And God overflows those blessings because we listen learn and obey. It is kind of a no-brainer – why wouldn’t every one want to live this way?
But, of course, we fall far short of this. READ v 15-20. There are clear consequences to not obeying God. It isn’t just that we miss out on His delightful blessings, but we face very negative discipline or punishment in our lives. Things become a disaster. We currently live in a culture which has intentionally turned away from God’s way to follow their own made-up God and their own made-up morality. That is really not going so well for most. Because as v 20 says, we are beginning to experience God’s curses, confusion and rebuke in these areas of disobedience. God is a loving God, but He is also a holy and just God. There is no neutral – we are either walking towards God or we are walking away from Him. Turn to Jeremiah 7.
B. I Kings 14:15-16
This is not the way our culture thinks anymore – but it is how things work in our homes. Where there is obedience, there is greater blessings and where there is disobedience there is greater pain & discipline. As we continue in the Old Testament, we see the same themes over and over again. Around 950 BC, 1 Kings 14:15–16 says “And the Lord will strike Israel, so that it will be like a reed swaying in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land that he gave to their forefathers and scatter them beyond the River, because they provoked the Lord to anger by making Asherah poles. And he will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit.”
C. Jeremiah 7:9-15 (and following)
Skip ahead 350 years to 600 BC and we see the same theme again. Jeremiah 7:9-15 READ. God’s holiness and justice is not to be taken lightly. God is not a dysfunctional parent who pays all the bills of their grown child while that one doesn’t work, disobeys and ignores the parent. It doesn’t take too much reading in the Old Testament before we are confronted with God’s righteousness. So it isn’t much of a jump to wonder, “then are most of the troubles the Jewish people have gone through over the last few centuries simply because of their disobedience to the living God?” Turn to Luke 13.
D. When we see God punish another people, our response should be humble
Self-examination Luke 13:1-5
This is actually a question Jesus directly answered because there are times we all want to know if the bad things happening to people are because they did something wrong. Is it justice that has caught up to them like so many of our popular TV shows portray. READ v 1. (People brought Jesus the latest news and wanted to know His take on it. The Roman soldiers had killed some people inside the temple as they were sacrificing to God.) Jesus quickly gets to what they really are wondering about. READ v 2 – He asks the same question about an accident in v 4. READ. Did these people deserve what happened to them, whether it came from an accident or a police action? NOTICE JESUS’ ANSWER in v 3 and v 5. READ.
This is profound. If we think God might be punishing another person or people for the wrong they have done, our response should be humble self-examination. That is the opposite of our natural response. If anyone believes that the Jewish people are getting what they deserve, then they need to bow in quiet repentance and brokenness for their own wrong thoughts, attitudes and actions. The holiness, justice and righteousness of God displayed in judgment in another’s life should always lead us to heavy duty repentance. God is great and awesome beyond understanding.
II. God has a zeal for His people
But there is much more to our answer to this question because there is much more to learn about the awesome character of God. The question stated In the Old Testament whenever the Jews were persecuted it was usually God’s punishment for their disobedience. Actually that statement is inaccurate. The Hebrews were persecuted in the time of Moses, but that was not because of their disobedience. The Jews were going to be wiped out in the time of Esther but that was not from their disobedience. The returning exiles were so oppressed in time of Nehemiah that they couldn’t do simple work on the city wall without a constant armed guard. That opposition was not because of Israel’s sin. As my friend Rich, who does research for Jews for Jesus, wisely observed, “Outside the land, the persecution is interpreted as an evil act against God's people brought on not by Israel's disobedience but by others' hatred.” Yes, their initial scattering was because of their sin, but then we see another aspect of God’s awesome character. Turn with me to Isaiah 43. There is a zeal God has for His people that never seems to be extinguished.
A. Isaiah 43
READ Isa 42:24-25. Clearly the nation has gone through awful times. Those problems have come directly because of their disobedience and deafness to God’s truth. But watch what happens next. READ Isa 43:1-2. God takes the initiative to turn the situation around. All those negative problems can now be faced with the grace and power of God. It is to these previously disobedient people that God is making this awesome promise to preserve them through the biggest storms of life. God’s zeal has been unleashed in a most amazing way – all based on His relationship with them as His children. READ Isa 43:4. The discipline of God’s children is for a time and then His grace again pursues them, BECAUSE God chose the Jewish people as His people. This is how God’s love actually works rather than the false thinking of today which has God doing nothing when His people disobey.
B. God takes down the oppressors (Pharaoh, Haman & Hitler) Isaiah 43:14
In fact, God goes farther and takes the oppressors of the Jewish people completely down. READ Isa 43:14-15. Babylon was the country God used to punish His people, now God is going to take that oppressor down. Even in those cases where the peoples’ problems started because of their own sin, God steps in eliminate the ones who attacked and persecuted them. God’s actions are not because the Hebrew people were so great, but because He is God – He is the Holy One who stands for righteous and justice. God is Israel’s creator and He will not allow them to be destroyed. There is always a remnant who God preserves.
C. Moses, Esther, Nehemiah not punishment
If you look at history when the Jewish people have been outside of their land, the majority of the persecution comes from the irrational hatred of God’s people. The Pharaohs, Hamans and Hitlers of this world seem to be prodded on by the very demonic. The wonder of the matter is not that Jews have undergone so much persecution, but that, in the face of the forces of annihilation, they have survived and returned to the land as evidence that the Bible is true and that God keeps His word.
D. When we see God’s people being mistreated, God’s zeal is not far behind.
This picture didn’t change at the time of Christ, but is the primary picture we have of them outside of the land and very much “in the world”. As one Jewish writer noted
“We survive, even thrive, in lands far away from our own land, though we continue to be driven from one country to another. Harried from without, weakened by sin and skepticism from within, still we shall survive. The reason we continue to survive is neither our wit nor our might. It is not our piety. We Jews survive because our God reigns—because he who promised Abraham and Sarah a glorious destiny at the end of time will keep his word.”
I agree with that. Because God lives, the Jewish people continue to exist as a people in spite of a multitude of destroyers. Wherever you see God’s people being mistreated, remember that God’s zeal is not far behind.
III. A picture of how God works in the lives of His children Isaiah 42-45
Now the Jewish people are not the only “people of God”. Through Jesus Christ, all who call on Jesus as their Savior and Lord become “children of God.” In Isaiah 42-45 we have a picture of how Jesus also works in our lives – both as a local church and as individuals.
A. God reveals Himself and we want to thank/praise Him Isaiah 42:10 (v 1-16)
It all starts with God who reveals Himself to each of us in some way. The first 16 verses of Isaiah 42 reflect God revealing Himself through the Messiah. Our response is to naturally want to thank God and praise Jesus. READ v 10a. The ‘new song’ is a new recognition of what God has done for us. All of us here – over 20 -- have experienced some time in our life when God opened our eyes to something only He could do. We can accept that or we can reject it. But for those who repent of their sin, believe Jesus is really God incarnate who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins & rose bodily from the dead to prove it and surrender to follow Jesus as our life boss – we become God’s children. God calls on us to worship Him regularly – not because His ego needs stroking, but because it means we are rightly seeing the special things Jesus is doing in our midst.
B. We stray and wander from our first love Isaiah 42:24-25 (v 17-25)
However, with time, a number of God’s children stray and wander from their first love. This is seen in Isaiah 42:17-25. Let’s pick up with v 24. READ v 24-25. When we do wrong – when we stray – when we ignore Jesus, there are negative things that come into our lives. These are meant to wake us up to our selfishness, self-pity, ungratefulness, and sin. In fact, in the book of Hebrews we are specifically told to treat any hardship that comes into our lives as if it were God’s discipline. In other words, if you had one of those weeks where everything went wrong, you should quietly go off and ask the Holy Spirit to examine your life – then repent of any thought, any action or any inaction that God was not pleased with. The hardship may or may not have come from God because of our overspending, gossipy words, greedy attitude or our lying – but by first examining our own lives and humbling ourselves before God, we make ourselves ready for His blessings.
C. Negative consequences come into our lives
D. (With repentance), God’s grace is available even during discipline Isaiah 43:2 (v 1-7)
With repentance, God’s grace is available even during discipline. As God’s children, even when we stray, His love and zeal for His children is not far behind. Thus, as those waters start rising negatively in our lives, we can rely on Jesus’ help to pass through without being overwhelmed. We can go through the fire and know God will keep us from being destroyed forever. READ v 2. Remember the context of this promise is a people who were disobeying God and He called them back through tough love – through negative situations in their lives. Then He woke them up spiritually.
Picture June. She is 30 something. Earlier in her life she had committed herself to Jesus as her savior and Lord, but lately she was too focused on “living life to its fullest” to have time for more than a couple trips to church on Sunday. She did pray, but usually only when she was in trouble. Lately, life hadn’t been going so well. With the credit cards maxed out, bill collectors were harassing her. She often lied to get them off her back. Her relationships weren’t going so good either. Everything seemed to start well but then they all ended a disaster – in fact the pain was getting so bad she considered never going out with men again. Sadly, she refused to see that she was doing everything the opposite of what God said. And, of course, all this spilled over into work so that now her job was in jeopardy. It is at these times, that the Holy Spirit calls us to return to Jesus. Our problems are too big for us to clean up by ourselves. Instead God wants us to repent and take a single action towards God’s way so His grace can be unleashed. He’ll be glad to be with us, when the bill collectors call. We can ask for His help in making the changes so debts can be paid off. This is how life really works.
E. God counters His/our enemies showing His power Isaiah 43:14 (8-21)
In the process, God shows His power as we saw in Isaiah 43:8-21. That leads to us genuinely experiencing God which leads to a new praise & thanksgiving. This starts the cycle again. To make sure we understand how freely God’s grace flows after His discipline, we see this process repeated again in Isaiah 43-45. God again initiates in the lives of those who had been disobedient. Those passages are in your outline.
F. This cycle seen again (Isaiah 43:22-28; 44:1-5; 44:6-11; 44:12-23, 44:24-45:8; 45:8-10, etc.)
How should we interpret things like the Nazi holocaust and persecution of the Jews? The same way we would have in Old Testament times. They are evil actions by evil leaders who have been inspired by the demonic itself. Does that mean the Jewish people aren’t suffering any punishment from God these days? Not at all – they most assuredly are - but that is true of everyone. So when we think we see some punishment of the Jews by God, the Lord wants us to first examine our own hearts. Then we want to remember the zeal of the Lord for His people. It is always close by in times of trouble. That the Jewish people are back in the same land for the third time is unprecedented in history. That they are still there – a mere 6 million Jews in the middle of hundreds of millions of Muslims who want them totally eliminated is even more amazing. This does not mean the Jewish government is making godly decisions but it means we serve a God who is both just and loving. God’s zeal for His people is never far away – whether we are talking about ethnic Jewish people or we Gentiles who have been adopted through Jesus Christ’ death on the cross for us.